Publishing these days feels like that old lumberjack sport of walking on logs in a river as they toss and turn and roll under your feet. The playing field keeps changing, and so does the audience. It seems sometimes as though there are more people publishing their work (in one way or another) than there are people who read any of it.
In the specific context of our niche of erotica (I was going to say “field,” but “niche” sounds so much more intimate, doesn’t it?) I’ve heard mutterings from several publishers that the boost in readership spurred by the Shades of Gray phenomenon has now been more than overwhelmed by the flood of wannabe writers and publishers trying to catch the wave. There’s too much dross out there now for the really shiny works of kinky goodness to catch the reader’s attention, and too many potential readers have given up in disgust at the poor quality of what they’ve sampled.
I’ve seen people complain that they can’t find any erotica worth reading, but I haven’t figured out how they’re choosing the books they’ve sampled and found wanting. I suspect that being free and online is a major factor. The overlap of people who want to read erotica and people who will actually buy books is pretty limited. My personal experience doesn’t count for much, but I’ve noticed that a quarter to a third of the Google searches that bring people to my blog are for lesbian cop sex, while my book Lesbian Cops has been the poorest seller of my nine anthologies. The free lesbian cop story on my blog is consistently among the most viewed, but the people interested in that theme are not so much into buying books. Or maybe that particular story turns them off; who knows? The theme itself turned off some of my usual contributors, but others did wonderful work that melded complex, believable characters and a generally noir tone with hot, intense sex, and the book was a Lambda Award finalist. I suspect that the searchers on Google weren’t looking so much for believable characters as for cartoonish stereotypes.
Enough straying from today’s topic. There’s another aspect of publishing erotica these days that I’ve been pondering. Kinky sex is in, but what do the majority of new readers think is kinky? Maybe I’m getting jaded as a reviewer—well, sure, I’m getting jaded with any writing less than excellent—but I’ve been surprised several times lately at what some readers (and writers) think is at the cutting edge. I’m reading a book for review just now with a title that includes the word Deviant, and by halfway through nothing more deviant than anal sex has appeared. And a review of my latest anthology, Wild Girls, Wild Night: True Lesbian Sex Stories, raves about all the stories being kinky. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very grateful for the review, but I wouldn’t call more than maybe a third of the stories kinky. Haven’t we got past the time when anything with LGBTQ characters was considered kinky or even deviant? But I shouldn’t complain.
The other side of this coin is what Giselle dealt with in her post about themes so taboo that Amazon won’t carry them, specifically incest. What are the really extreme limits of what can be published in any marketable way? Since the lure of sex has been for a very long time, if not literally always, bound up with the lure of the forbidden, how dependent are we on taboos for our kicks? As I commented on her post, I really don't know what we erotica writers will do if society reaches a point where nothing about sex is a source of pleasurable guilt.
On an entirely different tack, more about publishing, reading, and writing in general than about any particular genre, I heard a startling and very scary statistic the other day. The newest version of the video game Grand Theft Auto brought in much, much more money on its first day on sale than any movie has ever done in its first—well, I don’t remember the exact figures, but it may even have been a year. If video games are earning vastly more than movies, and more people watch movies than read books (which I think has been an established fact for quite a while now,) no wonder such a small percentage of the population is willing to spend the money—or time—to read books in any form. Sigh. You youngsters may be able to adapt to writing video game scenarios, but I’ll have to subside as gracefully as possible into confirmed dinosaurhood.